Word Origin & History
O.E. fneosan "to snort, sneeze," from P.Gmc. *fneusanan (cf. M.Du. fniesen, Du. fniezen "to sneeze;" O.N. fnysa "to snort;" O.N. hnjosa, Swed. nysa "to sneeze;" O.H.G. niosan, Ger. niesen "to sneeze"), from P.Gmc. base *fneu-s- "sneeze," of imitative origin, as is PIE *pneu- "to breathe" (cf. Gk. pnein
"to breathe"). Other imitative words for it, perhaps in various ways related to each other, include L. sternure (cf. It. starnutare, Fr. éternuer, Sp. estornudar), Bret. strevia, Skt. ksu-, Lith. čiaudeti, Pol. kichać, Rus. čichat'. Eng. forms in sn- appear 1490s; change may be due to a misreading of fn-, or from O.N. influence. But OED suggests M.E. fnese had been reduced to simple nese by early 15c., and sneeze is a "strengthened form" of this, "assisted by its phonetic appropriateness." The noun is first recorded 1646, from the verb. To sneeze at "to regard as of little value" (usually with negative) is attested from 1806.